November 25, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sunday next before Advent

Greetings and Blessings,

Current events in Israel and surrounding areas have caused some to want my comments on the book of Revelation re-posted.  You should know in advance that my view of the book is somewhat different, but I hope you will read the comments, even if you disagree with them. You can find a fuller discussion of this view in my book, He Shall Reign: The Message and Meaning of the Book of Revelation.  

Monday after the Sunday next before Advent

Morning - Ps. 124, 128, Joel 1:13, 2 Peter 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 131, 132, 134, Rev.1:1-8

Revelation 1:1-8

Our commentary turns to the book of Revelation, where we will remain until the evening of December 23rd.  This is a most fortunate time to look at Revelation, due to the wide spread interest in the book caused by predictions about the "rapture."  Most current views are based on the interpretation devised in the British Isles in the early 1800s known as Dispensationalism.  According to this view, the New Testament Church was inaugurated by God as a stop gap measure made necessary because the Jews rejected the Messiah.  The Church is an interruption of God's plan for Israel, and will be removed in the "rapture." The rapture will be followed by seven years of tribulation, during which Israel will return to God.  At the end of the seven years, Christ will return and rule in Jerusalem for a thousand years, after which He will take all of His people to Heaven.  This view leads people to make predictions about the time of the "rapture," and to see in current events "signs" that it is near.  Rather than making more predictions, allow me to suggest another, and much older view of the book of Revelation.

It is important to understand that the Dispensational view is a new view.  Historically, the promises of God in the Old Testament have been understood as being fulfilled in the Church.  The Church is the New Israel and the Kingdom of God on earth.  It is not an interruption of God's plan for Israel; it is the fulfillment of God's plan for Israel.

Rather than giving a map of events separated by millennia from those to whom the book was first written, the book of Revelation was first of all a message to first century Christians enduring deadly persecution by the Roman Empire.  The message refers to the coming fall of Jerusalem and Rome, and encourages Christians to remain faithful even unto death.  Their persecutors will fall, but God's Church will remain, and those who suffer and die in the persecution can look forward to a home in Heaven, with all the blessings of the Heavenly realm.

In this respect, Revelation is similar to Romans and First Timothy, each of which is written to a specific congregation or person with a message for them.  In the message for them we find a message for all Christians of all time.  So, when the Apostle Paul charges Timothy to preach the word, we understand that the same charge applies to all ministers and all churches.  Like wise, when John tells the people of Asia Minor that the smoke of the torment of those who worship the beast which persecuted the Church in the first century will ascend up forever (Rev. 14:11) we can rest assured that those who worship whatever beasts arise in our own time will also perish with the unbelievers.  The message here is not given to amuse us with guessing games about the identity of the Anti-Christ, but to teach us that the price of opposing Christ is the fires of hell.

Tonight's reading shows that the book of Revelation is a revelation/message from Jesus Christ regarding "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1).  It is written to the "seven churches which are in Asia" (1:4).  These are actual churches with real people, not symbols of the ages of the church.  The revelation comes through John the Apostle, who is imprisoned on Patmos.  He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches of the area for many years, and he writes to prepare the Christians for the persecution that has begun and will increase in scope and ferocity in the near future.  Thus he calls Christ the faithful witness.  The Greek word used here is the word from which we get our English word, "martyr." It is used intentionally to show that Christ gave up His life for the people in these churches.  He counted them more valuable to Him than His glory in Heaven and His life on earth.  So, if they are called upon to choose between Him and their own lives, they must choose Him as He chose them.

Tuesday after the Sunday next before Advent

Morning - Ps. 129, 130, Joel 2:1-11, 2 Pet. 1:12
Evening - Ps.132, Rev. 1:9-20

Revelation 1:9-20

The historical setting of the book of Revelation is made clear in two verses from chapter 1.  In 1:4, the first recipients of the Revelation are identified as the "seven churches which are in Asia."  Note that the churches are not merely identified; they are greeted in the standard form used in letter writing by the Apostles; "Grace be unto you, and peace...."  These churches are facing a growing persecution by the Roman government, and, in 1:9 John identifies himself as their companion and brother in that tribulation.  Tribulation, here, means the tribulation of the Church under the Roman persecution.  So John is saying to the seven churches that he is suffering with them.  John was not sitting in a comfortable home as he wrote Revelation.  He was in a squalid prison, a place of horrible suffering and torture.  Peter had already been tortured to death in Rome, Antipas had been executed in Pergamos (2:13), and John knew the same fate could be his at any moment.  So cast away the idea that these churches are mere symbols.  They are people of flesh and blood facing the issues of life and death because of their faith in Christ (1:9).

The power of Christ is described in verses 10-17.  His voice is strong and powerful, like a trumpet blast.  He is dressed in garments of spun gold.  His appearance is fearful, with eyes like fire and feet like brass. His voice is like the sound of many waters (we might say, like the roar of a thousand stormy seas).  A sharp, two-edged sword comes out of His mouth and His face is as bright as the sun.  This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild.  This is the God of all creation, terrifying in His power and fearful in His holiness.  No wonder John, close as He was to the Lord, fell to the ground in a dead faint (1:17).

The Great and Majestic Lord revives John, and describes Himself as the One who died and lives again, has the keys of Heaven and hell and death, and holds the seven stars and candlesticks in His hand (1:18-20).  This is One to be feared above all fears.  And yet, if He is for you, who can stand against you?  Certainly Rome is no menace to the power of this Jesus.  Rome had already killed Him once, done its very worst against Him, yet He lives and holds power that can destroy all of Rome in an instant, or throw it into the fires of hell forever.  Surely the Church can trust this One, in life and in death.

He tells us the meaning of the stars and candlesticks.  The book of Revelation often interprets its own symbols, and it is important that its readers pay attention to its interpretation.  The stars are the angels of the seven churches.  Heavenly bodies usually represent human beings in Revelation, and here they represent the clergy, probably the bishops of the churches in the seven cities and their surrounding areas.  The candles are the churches.  The point made is that they are held in the right hand of Christ.  He holds them in his strong hand, and He is far stronger than any persecutor on the face of this planet.

The picture given by this passage is very similar to that in the Twenty-third Psalm.  "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."  Why? "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."  As the Psalm presents, Christ's ability to keep His sheep safe, even as they pass through the shadow of death, Revelation 1 shows He is able to see His Church through the persecution of Rome

Wednesday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 136, Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet. 2:1-10
Evening - Ps. 139, Rev. 2:1-11

Revelation 2:1-11

Tonight's reading brings us to paragraphs addressed specifically to the churches of Ephesus and SmyrnaEphesus was the major city in the area, and it was the Apostle John's home base from which he made episcopal tours to the surrounding cities.  It was known for its large number of Christians, for its love of the Apostle Paul, and for the ministry of Timothy.  Due to the large number of Christians and churches in this area of Asia, it was natural for John to move into it after Paul went west to take the Gospel into new territory. As archbishop of the area, Timothy had served well under Paul, and now served equally well under the Apostolic oversight of John. 

How blessed the church in Ephesus is to have been under the teaching of Paul, John, and Timothy.  And it seems to be thriving, even in this time of persecution, for even our Lord says it has rejected false apostles, and has not fainted in the face of persecution (2:2 and 3).  Yet, our Lord says to them, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (2:4).

This may seem trivial to our self-centered generation, yet our Lord speaks of it as though it means the Ephesians have almost left the faith entirely, and will be completely cast away if they do not repent (2:5).  Note again that this church has had the greatest of human ministers, is fiercely orthodox, and has endured persecution for its faith in Christ, yet it is in danger of falling away from Christ entirely.  There is a terrifying warning to all churches in all ages in the failure at Ephesus.

What is the failure at Ephesus?  It is something very similar to what the Old Testament Church experienced at various times, a faith reduced to doctrines and stubborn tenacity, but with very little concern for God or His people.  It was a faith that went through the motions of orthodox faith and worship, without engaging the heart or mind of the people.  Consequently, they were indifferent towards Christ and one another.  The sense of oneness in Christ was gone.  The sense of identity as one body was gone.  They no longer thought of themselves as walking together in the way of truth together, holding "the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace."  Rather than being characterised by that active sense of identity and belonging, each one went his own way, wrapped up in his own thoughts and activities, and this attitude continued even when they came together in worship.  They had lost the sense of worshiping God as one, and had become simply individuals worshiping God individually.  Their worship was private worship performed in public, and this extended to their entire life of faith, including their attitude toward unbelievers. Yet the promise of grace remains, "to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

To the angel, and thus to the Church, of Smyrna, our Lord has no words of reproach.  He commends it for its faithfulness (2:9) and perseverance in the face of persecution.  Yet He wants the people to know the worst is ahead of them (2:10), and they are to be prepared to suffer and die for Christ.  In our time Christ is often presented as a way to self-fulfillment and happiness, and even to health and prosperity.  Many have become Christians in the hope that they will be "raptured" out of the world so they won't have to face old age, illness, death, or the "tribulation." But in John's day, joining the Church marked a person for persecution and death.  It is highly doubtful that many of the people thronging to church today would have even considered becoming a Christian if they had lived in John's time.  Yet the Church grew by leaps and bounds during this time.
The real promises of Christ are not that His Church will escape tribulation, but that those who overcome the world by remaining faithful unto death will not be hurt by the second death, the fires of hell.  Instead, they will receive the crown of life (2:10).

Thursday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 137, 138, Joel 2:21, 2 Pet. 2:10
Evening - Ps. 140, 141, Revelation 2:12-17

Revelation 2:12-29

Pergamos, often referred to by its Latin name, Pergamum, is praised by the Lord for holding fast to faith in Christ, even though some, like Antipas, have been executed for their Christian faith (2:13).  But, where persecution and death could not shake their faith, a compromising spirit had.  They are accused of holding the doctrine of Balaam.  Often remembered for refusing to curse Israel (Num. 24:12-13), Balaam also taught the Hebrews to compromise with the faith and sins of the Moabites (Num.31:16).  Like him, there are some in the church of Pergamos who advocate compromise with the pagan religions.  These people are willing to adopt pagan practices and beliefs, and to incorporate them into Christianity.  Such people cast stumbling blocks in the path of Christians, causing them to depart from the faith.  This is especially enticing to those who want to save their lives in the face of persecution.  By joining with the pagans in their feasts and orgies, they may hope to escape suffering.  But Christ destroys their hope.  If they do not repent He will fight against them (2:16).  He will be unto them not a Saviour and refuge, but an enemy, for they have become His enemy.  His weapon will be the sword of His mouth (2:16, see also 1:16, 19:15, and Heb. 4:12) which is the word of God, or, the Scriptures.  By the Scriptures their sins will be shown and their condemnation pronounced.  But, to those who repent He will give hidden manna.  Instead of the feasts of idolatry that lead to eternal condemnation, He will give them the true Manna from Heaven, which leads to eternal life. A white stone and a new name signify adoption into the family of God.

Thyatira is a church that is growing in holiness, for their last works are greater than their first (2:19).  They also have a problem; a woman, claiming to be a prophet from God, is teaching them to compromise the faith.  She is called, "Jezebel" because, like the famous wife of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31), she is not of the people of God, and introduces idolatry and sin into the fellowship of Christ (Rev. 2:20).  God has given her time to repent of her fornication (idolatry), but she has not.  She and her followers will be cast into great tribulation and death (2:21-23).  In other words, they will die in their sins and suffer the eternal tribulation of hell, the second death unless they repent.

To those who have remained faithful to Christ, no burden is placed upon them but to "hold fast till I come" (2:25).  They are to continue in the faith, growing in holiness, even in the face of persecution and death until the Lord returns (the end of the world).  And they shall judge the nations.

Friday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Joel 3:1-8, 2 Pet. 3:1-10
Evening - Ps. 144, Rev. 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6

Sardis is the next church addressed, and the message to it is terrifying.  This church has the reputation of being a vital and healthy church.  It probably has a large congregation, the respect of the people in the city, and people probably "enjoy" its services and activities. Yet, in reality, it is dead.  The people are just going through the motions of church, while their hearts are for the world and its acclaim.  This church has been tamed by the world.  It has become a pet.  Our Lord counsels it to strengthen what little is left of the true faith.  Otherwise He will come to it unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, and the people will die in their sins.  They need to repent (3:3).  Those who do will receive white raiment, symbol of the purity of those whose sins have been forgiven, and their names will not be removed from the book of life (3:5).  To have Christ confess them before the Father and His angels is to be claimed as one belonging to Christ by faith, and to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Saturday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 146, 149, Joel 3:9-17, 2 Pet. 3:11
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Rev. 3:7-13

Revelation 3:7-13
The "city of brotherly love," is not living up to its name.  Like the rest of Asia Minor, the people have adopted a general attitude of open opposition to Christ and His people.  The Church of Philadelphia is apparently very small and composed of people with little or no power or influence in the city.  Yet they have kept the word of God faithfully in the face of persecution, and Our Lord commends them, as He does Smyrna, without any word of condemnation.

As with each of the other Churches, the Lord opens with a description of Himself intended to strengthen and comfort His people.  He holds the key of David, and He alone opens and shuts the door to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The key of Davis is especially significant because the "synagogue of Satan" (3:9) is especially troubling to the Church.  Such people may be a mixture of Gentiles and Jews who insist that faith in Christ must be combined with a conversion to Judaism and the complete ceremonial law and sacrificial system.  Or they may simply be Jews who persecute the Christians as some persecuted Paul in other places.  Either way, the Lord shows that He holds the key of David.  This means the Old Testament was about Him, and He is the fulfillment of all that the law and prophets taught.  He is the key to the Old Testament.  It also means His intentions and promises given in the Old Testament, are fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament.  Those who believed Gentile Christians needed to become Jews were absolutely correct if the Church is not the fulfillment of the Old Testament, for the point of the Gospel and the work of Christ would have been to continue the Old Testament Israel and bring the Gentiles into it.  But the point of the work of Christ was to bring to fulfillment all that was symbolised by the old Israel, and to create a new people living in the faith of the New Covenant in Christ. For this reason, it is not necessary that Gentiles become Jews or adopt Jewish ceremonies or customs.  Instead, both Jews and Gentiles are to join together into one new people, in which there are neither Jews nor Gentiles, only Christians saved by grace through faith.  Christ, not Judaism, opens and closes the door to this new people of God.

The truth of the Gospel to which the Philadelphians hold will become evident to all when their persecutors are forced to publicly acknowledge them.  In that day they will know God loves the Church (2:9).

Verse 10 is a favourite verse of those who believe in a "rapture" of the Church prior to 7 years of tribulation, but this idea is nullified by verses 11 and 12.  The protection promised is spiritual rather than physical, and the spiritual protection will be with them as the trials of persecution increase.  It is because they have trusted in Christ and not given up the faith, that He will be faithful to them and keep them in His faith, no matter what trials the future may bring to them.  He will not let the persecution tempt, or, "test," them to the point where they give up their faith in Christ.  This is good news to all who truly believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour.  He holds us in His hand and will not allow anything to pluck us out.  We have trusted His promise to deliver us safely to Heaven and He will keep His promise (Jn. 10:28 & 29).
Verse 11 has been thought to refer to current popular views of the "rapture." But it clearly refers to the coming of Christ to judge the persecutors of the Church.  This will become increasingly evident in later chapters of Revelation.  He will come to judge them soon.  Therefore the Christians are to persevere in the faith, no matter what it costs them, for it is those who overcome by faith who will receive the blessings of verse 12.

Sermon, Sunday next before Advent

God Our Righteous Branch
Psalm 39, Jeremiah 21:5-8, John 6:1-14
Sunday next before Advent
November 25, 2012
Last Thursday we observed a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth.  Today we have gathered to ask God to help us bear fruit for Him.  The fruit we want to bear is the fruit of good works, which includes both our outward actions and the inward attitude of our heart, which the Bible calls love.  Our recent readings in Deuteronomy have encouraged this, reminding us to keep God's Law because we love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might (Dt. 6:5).
We learn about the fruit of good works in the Bible, which, as the wise men who wrote the Westminster Confession rightly said, teaches what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of us.  The wise men who wrote our Book of Common Prayer Book devised a plan of Bible reading and worship that centers on that belief and duty.   The first half of the plan teaches what we are to believe concerning God; the second half teaches what duty God requires of us.  Following this plan takes us through the Bible in an orderly and systematic manner which builds within us a store house of Biblical faith and practice.  It is essential to keep what we are to believe and do constantly before us.  Neglect of them will cause worship to decline into entertainment, preaching to decline into motivational talks, sermons to decline  into sentimental stories or self-help sessions, and the Christian life to decline into mere moralisms and feelings.
Starting next Sunday we return to what we are to believe concerning God.  We will read again of  the promise of the Saviour, of His birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will be reminded again of His miracles, message, and Nature.  That means this Sunday, today, we have come to the end of this year's emphasis on our duty to God.  It is very proper that we do so with a serious exhortation to love and obey God.  Our table of Psalms and Lessons for the Christian Year, often called the Lectionary, has intentionally had us reading Deuteronomy at this time, and it was no coincidence that the reading for last Monday evening began at Deuteronomy 10:12, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?"  What an excellent summary of our duty to God.

Yet, already we are turning our eyes toward the emphasis of what are to believe concerning God.  Jeremiah 23:5 speaks of the Righteous Branch and King of the line of David, who shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and justice upon the earth.  His name shall be "The Lord Our Righteousness."  We know Him as Jesus.  He will gather His people, and they will dwell together in their own land.  We are His people.  Our own land is the Church; the Body and Kingdom of God.  Ultimately, our own land is our dwelling in God in Heaven forever.

Feeding the five-thousand is a direct revelation of the deity and mercy of Christ.  It reveals that He is the prophet, the Messiah, the One Moses said would come from God into the world  as we read in Friday's reading in Deuteronomy 18:18, and again this morning in John  6:5-14.

Psalm 39 is particularly appropriate for today.  We don't know when this Psalm was written.  It may have been after David's sins regarding Bathsheba.  It may have been after his decision to number the people of Israel.  But whenever it was written it expresses David's desire to change his life, turn away from sin, and start doing a better job of keeping the commandments of God.   He says, "I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue.  I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle."  A bridle is based on the idea that if you control a horse's head, you control the horse. That's why James 3:1-3 says to bridle the tongue is to bridle the whole body.   So David is saying he is going to put his head into a spiritual bridle in order to control himself,  that he "offend not."  His intention is to do right.  His intention is to keep the commandments of God.  His intention is to love God with his entire being, and to love his neighbor as himself.  Especially he will control himself in the presence of the unGodly, so he will not give them an opportunity to blaspheme because of his sin.

But as David determined to do better he also became conscious of something that is very applicable to us as we emphasise our own duty towards God: David became unbearably conscious of  what verse 9 calls "all mine offenses."

Since June 3rd we have been looking at what God requires of us, and every time we have done so, these words should have pierced our hearts like a sword; "all mine offenses."  We have heard the word of God; we have known what we ought to be doing; and, like David we have said, "I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not."  We have  confessed our sins, repented of our sins, and attempted to throw them away like filthy garments.  And, like David's, our good intentions melted away in the heat of temptation or difficulty.  God have mercy.  It seems the more we try to do right, the more we become aware of "all mine offenses." Truly if we had to earn our own way to Heaven by the fruit of our good works, we would never make it.  Thanks be to God, we don't have to.  Thanks be to God our sins are forgiven because Christ died for them.  Thanks be to God we do not have to stand before Him in the filthy rags of our own good works, for Christ Himself has dressed us in His own unblemished righteousness.  Thanks be to God He Himself works in our lives to take heed to our ways, to transform our hearts and strengthen our souls to become more and more willing and able to love and obey Him.  He alone, can "Deliver me from all mine offenses" (Ps. 39:9), and He alone can stir up our wills to bring forth the fruit of good works.  There is mercy with the Lord.  He will deliver us from all our offences.  And He will continue to strengthen us to do more of righteousness and less of sin, until we reach that land where all sin is banished from us, and we will live in perfect righteousness and peace with God., forever.

"Stir up, we beseech the O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

November 23, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Saturday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Morning - Ps. 79, Lev. 26:27-42, Phil. 4
Evening - Ps. 65, Dt. 19, Mt. 28:11

Commentary, Deuteronomy 19

The Law of God prohibits murder, but what happens when someone accidentally "killeth his neighbor?"  Such a person may flee to a city of refuge.  There he may remain until the facts surrounding the cause of death are discovered.  This will prevent both personal revenge (19:6), and unjustified official execution, which is really only murder committed by people holding official power (19:10).  If it is justly determined that murder has occurred, the murderer will be taken from the city of refuge and executed (19:11-12). It is important to see that God requires justice.  Justice requires an impartial investigation into the facts, and a conclusion based on the facts.  Thus, judgment is not to be based upon the capricious views of kings or public opinion.  It is based only upon truth and the rule of just law.  Here is the foundation of the self evident truth that "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" and that "to secure these rights governments are instituted among men." Just laws that obligate the governors and the governed are vitally important to free societies. It is interesting that this passage follows the laws regarding kings in Dt. 17.

Removing landmarks (19:14) is a means of theft by claiming one's property boundary extends into what is really an other's land.  This makes fraud and misrepresentation as much an act of theft as breaking into an other's home and stealing his money.

Again we see the foundation for a just hearing and rule of law when verses 15-16 delineate the means of trying cases.  An accusation is not enough to condemn a person.  Two witnesses are required, and they must be investigated to determine whether they are truthful or are conspiring to use the law for immoral purposes.  If the accusers or witnesses are found false, they are to suffer the fate they attempted to exact upon the accused.  Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." 

November 22, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 69, Lev. 26:1-13, Phil 3
Evening - Ps. 80, Dt. 18, Mt. 28:1-10

Commentary, Deuteronomy 18

The tribe of Levi is set apart for the services of the Tabernacle of God.  They will own no land and have no income as the other tribes will have in Canaan.  They will be completely dependent on the tithes and offerings of the people for their food, housing, and raiment.  Deuteronomy 18:1-8 teaches the other tribes to provide for the Levites.

Verses 9-14 forbid adopting pagan religious practices, which God calls abominations.  Making sons and daughters pass through the fire (18:10) is the very first thing mentioned, and refers to burning children alive as religious sacrifices. God understandably has a particular hatred for this practice.  Other  forbidden practices are looking for spiritual guidance in any place outside of God.  The things mentioned were thought by pagans to be able to tell or influence the future as the mediums of the gods.  It is because of these practices that the wrath of God is come upon the Canaanites (18:12-13).

Israel will not need human sacrifices, divination, fortune tellers, star gazers, spell casters, or messages from the dead.  God will raise up a prophet (18:15-22) and will speak to His people through the prophet.  Moses was such a prophet.  Future prophets and their messages will be measured against the revelation of God given through Moses.  The Biblical prophets of the Old Testament always expounded the Law of God and called Israel to keep the Covenant.  Any prophet whose words contradicted the Law was known to be false.  This is important because some false prophets would have abilities to work signs and wonders (Dt. 13:1-3),  as did some of the fortune tellers and mediums (1 Sam. 28:7-25) . Prophets will also be measured by the results of their words (18:22).  If one says, in the name of the Lord, that something will happen, but it doesn't happen, Israel will know his words are false.  Such a prophet has falsely presumed to speak for God; a terrible and abominable sin with a terrible and abominable penalty (18:20).

18:15 refers to a continuing succession of prophets to guide His people. Ultimately it refers to The Prophet, which is none other than Christ our Lord  (Jn. 5:4-47, Acts  3:22-23, Acts 7:37).  He is the full revelation of God, which He committed to His Apostles to give to the Church through their preaching and writings. His revelation is preserved in the Holy Bible. The Church is blessed by having all that we need to know about God and salvation in the Bible.  Those who lead His Church and teach His people must first be called and lawfully ordained to the task.  They must second teach only in accordance with the Bible.  No person is allowed to add to or subtract from the words of Holy Scripture.  Ministers in Christ's Church today do not give new revelations, they teach and preach the Bible.

November 21, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 74, Lev. 25:23-31, Phil. 2:19
Evening - Ps. 77, Dt. 17:14, Mt. 25:57

Commentary, Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Many are surprised to find Moses talking about a king before Israel even entered Canaan, but even earlier God seems to imply that Israel will have a king one day (Gen 49:10).  The constraints against a king in 1 Samuel 8 are due to Israel's preferring a king instead of God, not against the idea of having a good king.

Regardless of the reasons and circumstances for choosing a king, God sets forth certain rules by which he is to govern himself as he rules Israel.  The rules seem to cover three specific situations.  First, neither he nor Israel will attempt to secure his throne, or the safety of Israel through foreign alliances.  For  this reason the king cannot be a foreigner (17:15), return to Egypt (17:16), or marry daughters of foreign kings to cement treaties (17:17).  Such entanglements risk allowing pagan ideas to influence Israel, and show a lack of faith in God's ability to defend His people.
Second, he is not to use his influence or power to exalt himself above his brethren.  Forbidding the king to multiply wives to himself prevents him from assuming more power and status than he is owed, and prevents him from treating his Hebrew sisters as property or amusements the way pagan kings treated women.   The prohibition against multiplying horses and riches is partly given to prevent the king from amassing great wealth through his position.  Horses were often seen as status symbols among the wealthy, but also were powerful weapons of war. Prohibiting them may be a way of preventing the king from keeping a standing army, which could be used to enforce taxes and duties upon the citizenry, enriching himself and his supporters while impoverishing the general populace.  The wisdom of such prohibitions is obvious.

Third, he is to be a student of the Law and will of God (17:18-20).  He is to personally write these words from Deuteronomy onto a parchment kept at his side at all times, and he is to read them every day of his life.  He is to fear God and keep His Law in his personal life, and he is to lead and rule Israel by the Law of God.  Strict obedience to God will enable him to rule wisely and well, and to resist the temptation to exalt himself above his brethren.

November 20, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 71, Leviticus 20:1-8, Philippians 1:27-2:18
Evening - Ps. 72, Dt. 15:1-15, Mt. 27:45-56

Commentary, Deuteronomy 15:1-15

Chapter 14 reminds Israel that she is intentionally different from other people.  Her values, culture, and life-style are different. She dresses differently.  She even eats differently.  She is so different others will think her "peculiar" (14:2).  Israel is different because she is holy (14:21).  She belongs to the Lord, and intends to set herself apart in outward appearances and practices, as well as in inward thoughts and intentions.  She purposely does not identify with the pagans around her.

In our time it often seems the Church is intentionally identifying with the world.  It seems Christians are eager to show how much we can be like the world, yet still be Christians.  Perhaps we should try to show how different we are yet still be in the world.

Chapter 15 turns to the treatment of fellow Israelites by the guiding principle of love.  Just as commandments 5-10 of the Ten Commandments deal with loving their neighbors as they love themselves, this part of Deuteronomy shows how love applies to real life.  Moses calls on the people to act on behalf of those in need, and to refrain from taking advantage of another person's misfortune.  Most of these laws are about dealing with someone who has fallen into poverty through no fault of his own.  Perhaps drought or flood has ruined his crops.  Maybe fire has destroyed his home, or disease has killed his sheep and cattle.  Perhaps he has become disabled. He is not poor because he has refused to work.  He is poor because something beyond his control has caused his poverty.

Moses reminds the people of an important point as they ponder the needs of others.  They did not earn their land and prosperity through their own efforts.  It was given to them as the gift of God.  Even the ability to make the farms and businesses prosper are gifts of God.  Therefore, as God had mercy upon them, they must also have mercy upon one another.

Verses 1-11 refer to money loaned to the poor to relieve their need.  It does not refer to loans on business ventures, only to those given to help the poor.  The attitude commanded is generosity and forgiveness.  If the man is unable, because of circumstances beyond his control, to repay the loan, it is to be forgiven.

Verses 12-15 begin the topic of releasing slaves.  A person's misfortune could become so complete and hopeless he may sell himself into slavery.  His bond service is to last only seven years, and he is to be paid handsomely for his work when he is released.

November 19, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 68, Leviticus 19:26, Phil. 1:12-26
Evening - Ps. 67, 84, Dt. 13:1-11, Mt. 27:27-44

Commentary, Deuteronomy 13:1-11

Since tonight's reading takes us to Deuteronomy 13, it may be beneficial to recall the salient points of chapters 11 and 12.  Chapter 11 continues to remind Israel to keep the commandments of God.  One of the most important passages of the chapter is found in verses 26-28, beginning with, "Behold I set before you this day a blessing and a curse."

Chapter 12 instructs Israel to destroy all traces of Canaanite idolatry.  Again it must be remembered that the Canaanite worship sites were places where children were slowly burned alive in ritual sacrifices and drunken orgies, all  in the name of the "gods.".  No wonder God did not want them left intact. The chapter further tells Israel not to use such sites to worship God.  He will show them where to set up the Tabernacle and where to worship Him.
Chapter 13 warns that any Israelite attempting to entice others into the Canaanite abominations is to be treated as a Canaanite and suffer the same fate.  It is well worth noting that this commandment was for a certain time and situation; the time has expired and the situation no longer exists.  The Church does not execute people nor does it attempt to have the state execute people for religious reasons.  Such actions by the Church in the past were the result of theological error and/or corruption.  The New Testament teaches freedom of religion and urges Christians to pray and work for the peace and good of the nations and people in which they live.  Christians understand no person is free to accept Christianity unless he is also free not to.  

November 18, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity



Morning - Ps. 63, 64, Leviticus 19:1-18, Philippians 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 56, 57,  Deuteronomy 10, Matthew 27:11-26

Commentary, Deuteronomy 10

Moses is recalling events in Israel's journey from Egypt to her present camp on the east side of the Jordan River.  He is concerned about showing the providence and grace of God in these events, so he mentions them as they occur to him, not according to a strict chronological order.  His point; Israel did not get here by herself.  God brought her, often against her own will.

He did not bring her because she was righteous; He brought her because He is gracious. The first eleven verses of the chapter deal with her rebellion into idolatry while Moses was on the Mount receiving God's Law.  Called and moved by God to pray and intercede, Moses spent forty days and nights in prayer for Israel.  The result, is found in verse 10; "and the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also, and the Lord would not destroy thee."

Verses 12-13 return to the main point of Deuteronomy, faithfulness and obedience to God.  It is stated well in verses 12 and 13, beginning with the question, "and now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee"?  The answer encompasses the outward action of keeping the commandments, "walk in all his ways," and the inward attitude of "love him, and to serve the Lord thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

While verses 1-11 recall the providence and grace of God as the foundation for obedience, verse 14 begins to show the foundation of God's grace is the nature of God Himself.  He owns all things, yet He delights in the fathers of Israel, and chose their seed after them, "above all people."  Israel has seen His grace with her own eyes (vs. 22) Moses says, paving the way for yet another exhortation to love and obey God.

Sermon, Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

God Our Freedom
Psalm 66, Colossians 1:3-12, Matthew 9:18-22
Twenty-forth Sunday after Trinity
November 18, 2012
The Collect for today is a prayer for deliverance from the bands of sin.  What are these bands of sin?  They are the bonds the chains that hold us in slavery to sin.  For today let us divide them into two parts.
First is the sinfulness that lingers in us still.  It is that unrighteousness that lurks within us and continues to attempt to rule and control us  The abiding sinfulness of our nature continues to attempt to shape our thoughts and values and actions and habits of responding to life and our understanding of life.  It attempts to hold us in sin.  It does not want to free us.  It is a band that attempts to hold us in sin.

Second is what I will call the consequences of sin.  Usually we think about hell when we think about the consequences of sin, and we should, for that is part of them.  But there are also consequences in this life, a "hell on earth."  I am referring here to a sickness in the soul that traps us in a deep sense of grief.  I have trouble putting this into words because all the words I can think of have been over-used and trivialised.  Depression, despair, absolute lack of hope, grief; these are all words that come to mind, but cannot seem to convey what I am trying to express.  I am talking about something so powerful it grips your soul and binds you in chains, and has the ability to throw you into the deepest most horrible living hell, from which you can not free yourself. This hell is a part of life in this fallen world.  It is life among fallen people, who can and do hurt you.  It is life in your fallen soul, watching yourself make mistakes that harm you, and living with their consequences. I think, if we are honest, we will see that many of our troubles in life are self-inflicted.  But there is a kind of hell that comes from watching people you love make mistakes they will pay for the rest of their lives, and watching people you love suffer and die.  It includes watching your country makes mistakes it will pay for for generations, and watching denomination after denomination forsake the faith and become nothing more than synagogues of satan.  All of these things contribute to a hopelessness in us which beats us down into deep and dark despair, and that is a large part of the consequences of sin.

The Gospel lesson today shows the healing of two people, each under the burden and despair I have just described.  The woman was excluded from full participation in the religious life of her people.  That doesn't seem like much to people today.  We have to beg people to come to church and constantly urge them to do the simplest things of faith.  Some groups have become experts at making church more attractive to non-Christians.  I don't think that is possible.  Church is by definition repulsive to non-Christians, for they are at enmity with God, and worshiping Him seems foolish to them.  You may give them emotional experiences and friendships and small groups and entertainment, and you may structure your church to offer such things, but such "churches" do not usually reach the unchurched,  they just siphon people out of the local, traditional congregations.  If you find the old hymns and traditional worship and sermons boring, and need a band and excitement and novelty to feel like you are in the presence of God, maybe the problem is not in the traditional church, maybe the problem is in you.

The woman in our reading for today wanted to be in Church.  She was forbidden to participate in the Temple and synagogue.  She couldn't  eat the Passover or participate in the daily liturgical prayers of the Temple. She wasn't even supposed to be in public during her issue of blood, and this woman's issue had lasted more than a decade.  She must have been hopeless until she heard about Jesus.  Then she touched the hem of His garment, and was made whole, made clean, restored to the religious life of Israel, restored to fellowship with God.  Now she had hope.  She was delivered from that despair I mentioned earlier.

How can we be delivered from the bands of sin?  How can we touch the hem of His garment?

First, worship.  There is grace here, in this church.  There is grace in the hymns, grace in the liturgy, grace in the prayers, and grace in the Word.  God ministers to us in these things.  He shapes our minds and attitudes, which, in turn, shape our actions and outlook on life.  He removes the despair.  He gives hope and confidence that things can be better for us because we can be better people and better equipped to deal with life, through His grace.  In fact, equipping us to deal with life is a major part of the way He ministers to us as we worship Him.

Second, pray.  I am not talking about asking God for things, or even about having " little talk with Jesus."  I am talking about seeking God.  Most of the Biblical references to prayer are references to worship; corporate, public worship in God's house on God's day, and private and family worship daily.  The reason most people have trouble praying is because they view prayer as asking God for things rather than being shaped and empowered by God.  They get tired of asking for things, and don't know what to ask for, so they have prayer lists.  Yes, prayer lists can be good things.  They become a hindrance when we begin to think praying for the needs and people on the list is all there is to prayer, and that when you have finished your list you have prayed.

Prayer is about receiving grace from God for there is grace in prayer.  You meet God in prayer.  He shapes you in prayer.  He heals your soul and heals your mind as you meet Him in prayer.  That's why the people of God have always prayed liturgically, at least until a few splinter groups made spontaneous prayer the norm.  Spontaneous prayer is good sometimes, but it tends to be too self-oriented and things oriented.  The liturgical prayers tend to be more about God and being renewed in the image of Christ.  There is grace in our liturgical prayers.  In them we touch the hem of His garment.

Third, read the Bible.  God has called us together today to hear His Word.  He has called us together to address us with His truth.  But the Bible is not just for Sundays.  Reading it should be a daily liturgy for us, and there is no better thing you can do for yourself, your wife, husband parents, children and friends than to gather them with you around the Bible.

Fourth, receive the Sacraments.  There is grace in baptism and there is grace in the Lord's Supper.  He ministers to us in these things.  He makes us members of His Church.  He strengthens our faith.  He draws us into Himself.   Why, then, would we let anything prevent us from receiving them?  In these things He heals our souls. In them we touch the hem of His garment

Finally, something I fear we overlook as a way to be freed of the bands of sin; obey God.  Not just in the big things, the great things, but in the small things of life.  Obey God in the home, on the job, and by doing the small things of life heartily unto the Lord.  I don't like taking out the trash.  Taking out the trash fills garbage cans, then I have to take them to the dump, and the dumpsters are always full and I always come home smelling like a garbage truck.  So I tend to procrastinate about the trash.  But when I make myself do it because it is my duty to my family and my God, or, more usually, when Sue finally makes me do it, it is amazing how good I feel about it.  It is amazing how such a little thing can lift some of that darkness and despair, if it is done properly for the glory of God.  You are a steward of God's resources, and taking out the trash is taking care of God's resources, and it makes you feel better, like you have accomplished something and done a small part of your duty to God.  Maybe you didn't want to do it, but you made yourself do it for God, and you found that, while you were serving Him He was ministering to you.  There is grace in these small things, in doing dishes and mowing lawns and loving one another.  In them we touch the hem of His garment.

Touching the hem of His garment is basically acting on faith,  It is doing what He commands in the belief that His commandments are the way of life and peace in this world and the next.  We do as He bids, believing He will bless us.

Faith is trusting His word and acting on that faith. It is not a feeling, and it is not done because we feel like doing it.  It is done because we believe Christ.  May the Father of all mercies grant us grace and free us from the bands of sin.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

November 16, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Saturday after the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 55, 2 Kings 25:8-26, Col. 3:18-4:6
Evening - Ps. 93, 98, Dt. 9, Mt. 27:1-10

Commentary, Deuteronomy 9

Israel is camped on the eastern bank of the Jordan as Moses delivers the farewell addresses preserved in Deuteronomy.  She will soon cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land.  She will face people greater in number and in stature than herself (9:1).  The Anakims (9:2) seem to be a people noted for their size and physical strength.  They must have also been powerful in battle for verse 2 quotes a saying, "Who can stand before the children of Anak."  The Anakim were the giants so feared by Israel forty years earlier (Num. 13:22-33).

The point Moses is making is stated in verses 4-6; Israel cannot take the land by her own power, nor has she earned it from God through her own righteousness.  The Canaanites are stronger than she, and Israel is a stiffnecked people, like a horse that will not easily respond to the bit. God is giving the land to them by His own power, and He is doing so, in part because He is keeping the promise He made to Abraham, and in part because of the wickedness of the Canaanites.  We have already seen the idolatry and immorality of the Canaanites, including the ritual murdering of children by burning them alive as sacrifices to their gods ( see commentary on Dt. 7:1-13, Wednesday after Sunday after Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity).  Israel has earned nothing good from God.  He would have been completely justified to leave her to suffer for her sins with the rest of the world.  Her calling and redemption are all gifts of God's grace.

The remainder of the chapter bids Israel to "Remember, and forget not, how thou provokest the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord" (9:7).  Moses calls her to remember the idolatry of the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments (8-21).  In verse 22 he reminds her of the complaining against God at Taberah (Num 11:1-3), Massah, where the people murmured for water (Ex. 17:1-7), and Kibroth hattaavah, where, not content with the manna from heaven, they clamoured for meat (Num, 11:4-34).  Kadesh barnea (9:23) is where Israel decided to turn back to the desert rather than trust God to deliver Canaan into her possession (Num. 13: 25-33).  Moses summarises the behaviour of Israel in verse 24; "Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you."

Moses now recalls his prayers and intercessions for Israel.  He asks for mercy because of God's promise to Abraham and the fathers (9:27), and for the sake of His glory, lest the Egyptians say, "Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which He promised them, and, because he hated, them he hath brought them out to slay them in the wilderness" (9:28).  Finally, he asks God to have mercy just because He is merciful; because He chose Israel to be His inheritance and brought them out of Egypt by His mighty power (9:29).

It does not take a great imagination to see the parallels between Israel and our own lives.  We were called and redeemed by God's grace, when we deserved to be left in the bondage of our sins.  God has led us through the wilderness, while we have rebelled against Him and disdained His gifts.  He has given us Manna from Heaven while we lusted for the flesh of the world.  As Moses interceded for Israel, Christ intercedes for us.  Let us not be a stiffnecked people.

November 15, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 54, 61, Jer. 36:20-26, Col. 3:12-17
Evening - Ps. 51, Dt. 8:11, Mt. 26:57

Commentary, Deuteronomy 8:11

The Lectionary for tonight is another reminder that a notation like  Mt. 26:57 means to start reading at verse 57 and continue to the end of the chapter.

One way to "forget" God is to hold an intellectual belief in Him without making an attempt to live a Godly life.  This is what Moses refers to in verse 11 saying, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His commandments."  Such people may go through the outward motions of religion while their hearts are far from God.  They may even convince themselves that ideas and actions that clearly contradict Scripture are actually pleasing to God.  Many churches and people of our own time have forgotten God, even as they convince themselves they are doing His will.  Israel had a continuous problem with this throughout her history.  Often she filled the Temple with idols. Sometimes she worshiped God on the Sabbath and pagan idols on other days, prompting God to say, "this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me" (Is. 29:13).

A second way to forget God is to "say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (8:17).  This leaves God completely out of the process, and takes all the credit for oneself.  In contrast to this view, God, through Moses, reminds Israel that He gave them the land, the houses, and the power to get wealth (8:18).  Without Him they would still be slaves in Egypt.

What happens if Israel forgets God?  She will perish like "the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face" (8:20).  She will be judged and punished like any other nation.  What happens when a church or denomination forgets God?  It forfeits its identity as God's people and becomes as those without God.

November 14, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after the Twenty-third Sunday in Trinity


Morning - Ps.52, 53, Jeremiah 36:1-19, Col 2:20-3:11
Evening - Ps. 49, Dt. 8:1-10, Mt. 26:47-56

Commentary, Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Chapter 8 appears to have a three-fold purpose.  First it recounts  "the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years" 8:2).  Second in verse 7, it reminds Israel that, "the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land."  Israel did not win her own freedom from Egypt, sustain herself in the wilderness, or gain the Promised Land by her own might.  The Lord has done all of this for her.  Third, "thou shalt remember the Lord thy God" (8:18), or, as it is stated in a verse in tonight's reading, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God" (8:11).

It may seem like Moses is stuck on the one point of remembering God, or, keeping His commandments.  We are less than one-third of the way through Deuteronomy, and he has repeated it several times.  He will continue to say it throughout the book, and it could be said that it is the theme and point of the entire book.  Everything else in the book seems to have been included for the purpose of emphasising and clarifying the main point, and driving it into the heart of Israel like the sword of the Lord.  It is probably stated best in Deuteronomy 6:4-5; "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."  Considering the difficulty Israel had remembering and loving God, we might wish Moses had repeated his point many more times.
One of the great passages in all of Scripture is found in verses 2 and 3 of this chapter.  They teach that God works things to humble His people.  That means He brings things, especially adversity, into our lives to teach us to be aware of our need for Him.  We have a tendency to focus too much on the things of world and the needs of the flesh.  But God is working to show us "man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."  Israel learned the truth of this in the wilderness, for there God provided for her in a desert land that could not be expected to support  her (8:4).  If He provided for her in the desert, He could certainly be counted on to provide for her in Canaan.  The danger in Canaan was not hunger or thirst as in the wilderness.  It was worldly satisfaction.  It was looking to wealth and overlooking God.  Tonight's reading forewarns Israel, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God."  Surely the same problem exists today, as do the same promises and warnings.